“You can write about anything” he said. “Anything?” I said. “Anything” he said. “As long as it is PC related”. Well as much as this post might therefore seem like a defiant “fuck you!” to Chris’ only brief, I nevertheless want to share my recent experience of playing Halo 3 on the Xbox 360 with my fellow PC brethren. Why? Well aside from the fact that I had no internet for two weeks and was slowly becoming a desperate, games-deprived Neanderthal, everything I’d heard or read about Halo beforehand made it out to be the single greatest FPS of all time. Words like ‘innovative’, ‘revolutionary’, ‘flawless’ and ‘perfect’ seem to get thrown around willy-nilly when it comes to Bungie’s poster child and the few friends I have who play it with an almost religious devotion get quite defensive, angry almost, at the mere suggestion that it could possibly be anything other than those things.
Being the pretentious purist that I am, what I had seen so far really didn’t strike me as that impressive or original and so I spent most of my brief encounters with it turning my nose up and getting frustrated at my ineptitude with the primitive control system. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy a challenge, but after playing a lot of FPS with a mouse and a keyboard, trying to do it with a 360 controller is like trying to run an obstacle course drunk off your tits.
Annoyingly, my housemate is obscenely good, and could probably shoot my bollocks off with his eyes closed. But give me a few hours with a mouse and keyboard and he wouldn’t stand a chance, even with the hundreds upon hundreds of hours he has accumulated online. Aiming with the mouse is, quite simply, better, and being an uncompromising PC gamer means I’ll never be fully comfortable with a controller. Rest assured, I am aware of the fact that this is all relative; everyone playing online is using the same infuriatingly inefficient control method and so is facing the same challenge (I do, however, get a certain amount of amusement, as smug and pompous as this amusement might be, at the sort of things that are considered “awesome moves” in Halo; things that a monkey could probably perform with ease on a PC).
What can I actually criticise Halo for then?
Well there isn’t actually an awful lot wrong with the gameplay itself, and as the bleak, internetless days went by I found myself (with a certain reluctance I might add) slowly enjoying the multiplayer more and more. But to grant any game the extraordinarily special status that fans and critics have given Halo would demand equally extraordinary design and execution, which Halo simply doesn’t have. It’s a good game, but no better than any number of the great shooters on the PC.
The argument I find myself having with Halo fanboys is a continuous regurgitation of the same old nonsense, and the one thing I seem to hear time and time again goes something like: “But the engine is so robust bla bla bla”. True, the engine is good, great in fact, but a solid engine is no longer a mark of distinction. We are in a technological golden age (at least as far as video games are concerned) where having a decent game engine can no longer be flaunted as a remarkable feature. Call of Duty, Team Fortress, Counter Strike, Battlefield, Quake, Crysis; all of these titles have solid engines that have withstood the test of time. Granted they’re not as good as Halo’s in some respects but they’re certainly good enough to facilitate a balanced multiplayer experience, which, when you think about it, is all you really need. A good engine is not what gamers actively look for in a game anymore; it’s something that should just be there as standard.
There is also an on-going debate about the problem of servers. The lack of third-party, dedicated servers means that players are forced to host every game on their own internet connection (the problems of which I won’t bother reiterating here). I don’t pretend to understand the technical or financial obstacles stopping Microsoft and Bungie from implementing the system used in multiplayer FPS on the PC (although as far as I’m aware there really aren’t any or, at least, many), but when comparisons are drawn by Halo’s own fanboys between it and, say, Call of Duty or Quake, then they immediately place it on the same table of discussion, including the efficiency of matchmaking/server browsing. And Halo’s is mind-bogglingly stupid.
Without any kind of server browser, players search for available games and are automatically grouped according to their current skill level, completely ignoring the highest skill level that certain players may have reached in the past. This results in the most ludicrous match-ups often pitting one side that may have played 5000 games between them against another that could have played as little as 100. The veterans barely even break a sweat, yawning as they effortlessly pummel the opposition, who spend the entire game headbutting their controllers screaming “OMG!!” and “WTF?!?!?” as they are sniped in the face or bludgeoned to death for the gazillionth time. No one finds this fun and it happens to me frustratingly often (because I’m usually on the latter team).
The lack of a server browser also means you get absolutely no choice over what map is to be played in the match. It is randomly generated and players get to veto just once, after which they have to settle for the alternative, which is also randomly generated. This results in players being forced to compete on some of the most unimaginative maps known to man, with their only options being to play through it regardless, or quit the game, suffer the XP penalty and leave the remaining players to fight it out with unbalanced teams.
It seems odd that a developer as well respected and acclaimed as Bungie have let such glaring errors remain in their principal title and it reflects poorly on the Halo community that the developers have been allowed to get away with some of the most heinous mistakes, mistakes that would have been instantly condemned had it been released on the PC.
I certainly enjoyed playing Halo, but in no way has it revolutionised the genre or competitive FPS in the way it has been lauded as doing- its huge success can be attributed simply to the fact that, with the exception of its flawed matchmaking system, it is the only console FPS that actually gets all the basics pretty much right, nothing more. It stands alone in this respect, and with no decent challenges to its crown, it has had a free ride with fans who are essentially none the wiser. Valve have raised the bar as far as feedback from their community is concerned and Bungie will have to match this if they are to see continued success with current and future titles.
We’d love to hear about your experiences of Halo 3, and what you think of it from a PC gamer’s perspective. Alternatively, if you would like to criticise my argument, complain about the fact I managed to use the words ‘fuck’, ‘tits’ and ‘bollocks’ in one article, or just tell me that I’m an obstinate little shite, then you can do that too.
Let the commentathon commence!